The Keith Papers

Part I: Channel and North Sea, 1803-1807; 1. Operations; 35. Secretary of Admiralty to Keith

The Document

35. Secretary of Admiralty to Keith

Admiralty Office.
October 11, 1803.

My Lord, As it appears essentially necessary that some plan should be adopted for defeating any projects the enemy may form of a descent on that part of the coast within the limits of your Lordship’s command during the winter months, my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have deemed it advisable that I should transmit to your Lordship for your consideration a general outline of the plan which they conceive to be best adapted to that purpose, the leading points of which are:

1. That of having an active force on the enemy’s coast for the purpose of keeping a vigilant and constant look-out on their proceedings and preventing as far as may be possible any considerable number of boats or craft from leaving their ports unmolested, and

2. To fix such stations on our coast as may be best calculated to operate against the enemy in case they should elude the vigilance of our cruisers on their coast, or put to sea in such force as to render the light cruisers incapable of making any effectual resistance against them. On a consideration of this important subject their Lordships think it will be of advantage to the public service that the limits of your Lordship’s command on the coast of France be extended to Cape Barfleur, and on the English coast to Selsea Bill, so as to include the River Seine and the Owers.

With respect to the first-mentioned coast they conceive that no less than four frigates and as many sloops should be appropriated exclusively to the purpose of blockading Havre and the ports within the Seine; this force appears to be absolutely necessary, as it will appear by the enclosed intelligence [missing] that the enemy are now preparing a class of vessels of greater force and burthen than any they have hitherto (as far as their Lordships are informed) con -structed in any of the other ports between that place and Flushing.

In the event of the ships and vessels employed in the blockade of Havre being blown off their station by strong S.W. or westerly winds, they should be directed to rendezvous at Dungeness. With easterly winds it is to be hoped they may be able to keep their station, and as the wind from which the greatest difficulty is to be apprehended is from the N.W. and north, they should in that case be directed to keep to the N.E. of Cape De La Hève and never proceed to Portsmouth unless absolutely forced to do so.

It seems necessary that a small force of two sloops should rendezvous within the Owers, for which service the merchant ships lately purchased and placed on the establishment of sloops appear to be particularly applicable. When the wind is easterly they should get under way and proceed to Arundel, and when the wind shifts to the southward they should anchor in the Park. Your Lordship will understand that a ship of the line will constantly be stationed at St. Helens under Admiral Montagu which will, in case of necessity, afford protection to the sloops on this extremity of your station.

The next station to be considered is Dungeness, to which a squadron of a ship of 50 guns, four frigates, four sloops and as many brigs and cutters should be appropriated. This squadron should be directed to rendezvous in the East Bay (of which, as well as the West Bay, your Lordship will perceive by a separate letter a survey has been made) with orders to the commanding officer to take care that a part of his squadron be always off Boulogne, Dieppe and Fécamp when the wind should be from N.E. to S., at which time the frigates should take a convenient anchorage, keeping the small craft always under way inside of them during the night; and as fresh beef will be supplied to this squadron from Lydd, and the water brought down to the beach, none of the ships of the squadron should ever go to the Downs unless from some unavoidable necessity.

The squadron in the Downs, where the Commander-in-Chief should be, should detach from thence a sufficient number of cruisers off Calais and Dunkirk, and in order that he may be enabled to do so, a force of not less than three frigates, six sloops and several [ten] smaller vessels should rendezvous in the Downs in addition to the two flagships which may be stationed there with the Flag Officers.

The station next to be attended to is that off Flushing, or rather at the entrance of the Scheldt, to which station a force should be appropriated of not less than a 50-gun ship, three frigates, four of the merchant ship sloops, and six smaller vessels. This force, excepting the latter, should continually anchor within the Banks, and the small vessels constantly be advanced, particularly in the night when the wind is from S. to N.E. In order that this important station should be properly attended to, both to its effect and safety, their Lordships intend to despatch Captain Bligh with two of the best Flushing pilots for the purpose of making his observations, and to report his opinion of the situation best adapted for placing the squadron to be allotted to the service above mentioned, and they wish to know your Lordship’s opinion how far it may be advisable to place a light on the Galloper, in case it should be found impracticable to keep an anchorage off the Scheldt during the winter, in which case a light on the Galloper might be of service to a squadron cruising between the Thames mouth and Flushing. Whenever any part of this squadron should stand in need of refreshment it should be directed to rendezvous in Yarmouth Roads, but only one or two of the ships should come over at a time; after having remained so long as may be necessary they will be able to fetch back to their stations whenever the wind may be at the N. or E., and should therefore on no account proceed to the Nore or Downs, excepting they should stand in need of any material assistance from the dockyard.

For the next station off Helvoet three frigates, as many good sailing sloops, and three cutters will be required. These should also rendezvous at Yarmouth, and take care never to be caught there with the wind at east. If any ship of the line should get out of the basin of Helvoet, the force off that port should be augmented accordingly. On this point it is hardly necessary to call to your Lordship’s recollection that a ship of the line requires the Springs to get out and the wind from N.N.E. to S.S.E.

For the station off the Texel two ships of two decks, two frigates, two sloops and three cutters at least should be appropriated. They should be directed to rendezvous in Yarmouth Roads and never continue there after the wind has come to the north, since they cannot work out of St. Nicholas Gut when the wind is in the eastward. In addition to the stations above mentioned, it is to be observe that a force must be appropriated to the station at the mouths of the Elbe and Weser; for though it will be impossible in the winter season to keep up a regular blockade, it will be necessary that three frigates and three sloops should be allotted to the service. This force should, whenever it may be necessary for it to return into port, endeavour to proceed to the Humber or Leith, preferring the former if possible, and resume the station as soon as possible after the force shall have been sufficiently refreshed.

Having stated to your Lordship the general outline it will appear that 6 ships of two decks, 22 frigates, 28 sloops, 26 smaller vessels will be required, which considering the extent of the force under our Lordship’s orders, can without inconvenience be allotted to those particular services, leaving a sufficient force for the protection of the different parts of the northern coast, and allowing for ships and vessels which must be in the King’s ports for the purpose of obtaining the necessary repairs. When your Lordship shall have considered the plan which has been now suggested, their Lordships are desirous of receiving your opinion thereon, and this opinion they wish to be furnished as soon as possible. Their Lordships have directed me to add that they think it advisable that the station of the Humber should be reinforced by one of the two-decked ships, and propose that the Gelykheid should be applied to that purpose, Rear-Admiral Thornborough shifting his flag from her to the Ruby.

That the station at Leith should also be reinforced by another two decked ship, for which purpose they intend to allot the Glatton now in the River Thames as soon as she can be got ready, intending to employ another flag officer under your Lordship’s orders on that particular station. I have &c.


See Also

Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars | Napoleonic Homepage

How to cite this article

LLoyd, C . (eds.) (1955) The Keith Papers, vol III, 1803-1815. Navy Records Society, pp. 42-45

Web Page: Rickard, J (24 July 2006), Keith to Secretary of Admiralty,

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